Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants Strengthens Families and the Economy

Across the nation, families, business owners, and police officers are calling on lawmakers to bring fairness to all in need of driver’s licenses – an item that many simply take for granted as an award for learning the rules of the road.

Drivers license copyBut for millions of undocumented residents throughout the U.S., the denial of this basic driving privilege has stifled their way of life.

Regardless of citizenship status, all can agree that daily activities require driving. Basic tasks like getting to and from medical care facilities, taking or picking up children from school, participating in family curricular activities, and traveling to and from work, unduly burdens the unlicensed. It also strains states’ limited financial resources.

Denying driver’s licenses to undocumented residents is a law that creates more harm than good and it needs to be changed.

The movement to do so is gaining ground. Already, states have enacted legislation to bring fair licensing to all drivers regardless of citizenship status. Washington, New Mexico, and Utah understood the advantage of providing licenses to drivers long ago. Others are beginning to join in this common sense solution as well. Last year alone, eight states passed laws allowing some form of driving privilege for immigrants in Nevada, Colorado, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, Illinois, Maryland, and Oregon.

Currently, ten other states are considering similar action: Minnesota, Texas, Iowa, California, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Rhode Island, New York, and Kentucky are all rallying together to stop devaluing families based on status.

Laws which bring fairness to all drivers is a good thing, and here’s why:

  • Officers actually benefit when drivers can be easily identified because it saves them time – freeing them to devote to more important crime fighting tasks.
  • Courtroom time and saving jail space won’t be wasted on drivers who are there solely for driving without a license or insurance.
  • Undocumented residents are more apt to cooperate with officers in protecting communities, restoring trust and strengthening officer-community relations.
  • Car insurance rates will fall for everyone, and policy-holders will actually receive significant savings each year.
  • States will earn revenue each year from drivers license renewals and vehicle registration.

Alliance for a Just Society affiliate, Idaho Community Action Network (ICAN) is joining the movement. Currently, Idaho denies over 95,000 undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses based solely on their citizen status. We’re talking about families, friends and co-workers – people who happen to be undocumented immigrants because our federal immigration bureaucracy is so out of touch with reality and tied up in red tape backlogs.

In Idaho, just as in other parts of the country, immigrants want to get licenses, register their cars, pay state and local taxes and contribute to the local economy. ICAN organizers are sending a clear message: it’s unfair for Idaho to benefit from undocumented immigrants’ work and yet deny them even the most basic rights.

Immigrants who can drive with a valid driver’s license will be able to travel to work without fear, take their family members to the doctors and the grocery store, spend their hard-earned wages in the state, and grow small businesses. The time is now to make things right.

Dr. Sheley Secrest is a policy analyst with the Alliance for a Just Society.